The bus lurches and sways. The guy next to you hacks and coughs. There are no seats, and no one will let you get to the little yellow ding-ding cord in time for your stop.
That’s the usual stuff on a Metro bus. Here’s the not-so-usual:
At least 68 times over 19 months, drivers of those rolling petri dishes found all of the human drama going on behind them so tedious that they nodded off.
So says a Metro “fatigue study” that was obtained by the Washington Examiner.
The best part is that all this snoozing was caught on video, thanks to cameras installed on buses. The cameras record constantly, but they flag the video only when a bus lurches or swerves, hits a curb or something more substantial.
Safety inspectors at Metro reviewed more than 10,000 clips that were flagged beginning in 2010. They found 68 instances — involving 67 of about 2,500 drivers (one guy snoozed twice) — when drivers had droopy eyes or closed eyes or did the full, horse-head nod-off, said Dan Stessel, a spokesman for Metro.
I was pretty horrified when I heard this. See, I really love my D6 bus.
The A/C is always cranked, you can text during the entire trip, and the driver is genuinely friendly, even to tourists who ask him if the bus goes to Mount Rushmore. “Isn’t it here? That mountain with the presidents’ faces?”
I’ve seen a driver divert slightly from a route to provide a 22-child preschool field trip with a safer crossing, and I’ve been let on the bus even after I threw a hissy fit outside because the door had already closed.
The drivers get cursed at, yelled at and even attacked by rock-throwing kids.
I don’t remember ever seeing a driver who was anything but alert.
“No, they never look sleepy,” agreed a bus stop companion, Mable Campbell, who took the 80 bus to Fort Totten on a Thursday afternoon. “I even make it a point to compliment them when I see them do some really good driving in bad traffic.”
I spoke with about two dozen riders Thursday. There were some complaints about harrowing turns or improbable passes you wouldn’t dare try in a smart car.
“I’m tired when I’m on the bus,” said Dorothy Cook, who rides three buses to get from her security guard job in downtown Washington to her home in Suitland. “I get off at 10, and sometimes I don’t get home until midnight.” On some of those long rides, she has talked to drivers who complain about long hours and feeling tired, too.
Even so, fewer than 1 percent of the videos that were flagged and studied showed a Metro driver dozing off, Stessel said. And in recent history, there has been no major accident involving a bus that was sleep-related.
“Of course, one is too many,” Stessel said.
Right. All it takes to make this a major issue is for one exhausted driver to nod off and plow into the Podunk Middle School’s seventh-grade Washington Extravaganza field trip.
So let’s find a solution that’s cheaper than millions of dollars in lawsuits and less heartbreaking than dozens of lost lives.
A lot of the bus drivers work a split shift. They drive during the morning rush and then have downtime until the evening rush. There is no quiet room or place for them to nap in between their stretches behind the wheel. And with that schedule, they have 12 hours on duty, even if it’s not all behind the wheel.
The answer? Adult naps!
The case for grown-up naps is easy to make. Big companies like Google and Nike encourage them and provide company nap rooms.
Take a look at the Daily Infographic chart on naps. Even a two-to-five minute “micro nap,” is surprisingly effective for banishing sleepiness. A nap of 60 minutes is more effective than a venti red-eye with an extra shot of espresso.
I remember being intrigued by something called the Energy Pod in about 2004. Oh, yeah, the year I had my first kid, when I switched from lusting after Christian Louboutins to fantasizing about naps.
The Energy Pod — the glorious creation of a Carnegie Mellon grad — combines a comfortable dentist’s recliner with what looks like an oversize salon hair-dryer globe (so you can sleep without the worry of letting people see you drool). You kick back, plug in some earphones and power nap.
I imagined nap bars, more popular than Starbucks, all over downtown Washington. You walk in, swipe your Sleep Card, spend 20 minutes in a nap pod, and rejuvenate yourself for the rest of the day. I’d pay for that.
Alas, the only nap bar was in New York City. True to form, the city never slept, and the store went under.
The concept evolved in a different direction. MetroNaps sells and leases $12,000 pods to companies, and the companies make them available to employees, perhaps charging users a membership fee.
Wouldn’t it be brilliantly forward-thinking of Metro to buy a fleet of pods for drivers to power-nap in before hitting the road?
And can’t we get one for our office?
Do you have a secret way to get a grown-up nap? Tell me about it at email@example.com or @petulad. To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.